The Circumnavigators - by Don Holm


- 11 -

The Spray Comes Back to Life

       When I determined to try the glare of the sun
       on dancing waves, instead of on chromium
       plate along our dusty highways, I was totally
       devoid of those rabid prejudices one usually
       encounters among yachtsmen in favor of their
       slocal designs, for I had never owned or sailed
       anything larger than a canoe.(l)

lager than a canoe, he had been born and raised on the coast of
Maine and had acquired a sense of proper seagoing craft by osmosis,
if nothing else. His wife, Edith, however, was a Colorado gal from
the Rocky Mountain country, and about as far removed from the
sea as one can get.
  So it was with astonishment that friends and associates at the
Georgia School of Technology in Atlanta learned that Roger and
Edith were going to build a boat for ocean cruising, perhaps one that
wuld even take them to New Zealand and beyond. They were espe-
cially astonished that Strout would give up a good-paying post as
assistant professor, as this was 1933 and the country in the depths of
the Great Depression, even though Franklin Delano Roosevelt had
just been elected and a New Deal had taken over.
  Times were indeed uncertain and unsettled. In Europe, Hitler took

     ~ 110 ~

over as Chancellor of Germany. In France, M. Deladier was having
trouble with the socialists in his cabinet. President Machado of Cuba
was accused of killing hundreds of political prisoners, and was
opposed to any intervention by the United States to straighten out the
tangled affairs of his country. The Japanese invading forces in China
pushed Oll with fierce fighting. Mayor Anton Cermak was shot by an
assassin named Zangara in Miami, Florida, who had been aiming for
F.D.R. A mob in Russia attacked Stalin's home and was driven off by
troops after four hundred people were killed, according to a Tokyo
report. President Roosevelt declared a bank holiday, called Congress
into special session, and declared an embargo on gold. Kidnappers
had grabbed St. Paul millionaire brewer William Hamm, and held
him for $100,000 ransom. And Roosevelt took a few days off in June
for a vacation voyage with his son James, and some friends on the
Amberiack II.
  Clearly, these were times enough to try men's souls and to escape if
possible to happier places where one could try the glare of tropical
sun on dancing blue waves.
  Professor Strout chose for his escape machine the famous sloop
Spray of Captain Joshua Slocum both the subjects of a current
resurgence of interest and controversy in the yachting magazines.
Slocum and Spray, of course, were gone, posted as missing on their
last voyage more than twenty years before, but the Spray's lines had
been published, first in Rudder by the well-known designer Charles
Mower who had taken them from a hand-carved model done by
Slocum himself.(2)
  Dozens, perhaps hundreds of copies of the Spray had been or were
being built around the world. One, the Pandora, built in Australia,
had sailed around the Horn and up to New York, but as it departed
for Europe, it too went missing in approximately the same part of the
Atlantic as the Spray had disappeared. Another, the Basilisk, built by
Gilbert C. Klingel for a scientific expedition to the West Indies, had
been shipwrecked on Grcat Inagua.(3)
  The controversy over the merits of the Spray, begun before Slocum
disappeared, had been revived from time to time, and continues even
to this day. Such famous designers as John Hanna, who even produced
a copy of the Spray, and Cipriano Andrade, Jr., to say nothing of
Thomas Fleming Day, Charles Mower, and Howard I. Chapelle, have
cursed or praised the design, according to each one's personal opinion.4
  Neither Roger nor Edith Strout knew about any of this, and so were

   ~ 111 ~

not infected by bias. They simply wanted a small but roomy boat
with a simple rig, one they could handle as amateurs to take them
anywhere in the world.(5) Strout had grown up in a seafaring environ-
ment where work boats were the common type, and he naturally
turned to a work-boat model when it came to choosing a design. The
Spray, as every reader of sea stories knows, had been an oyster smack
for nearly a century before she was given to Slocum, who rebuilt her
in a Fairhaven pasture. Moreover, the Strouts had no particular
desire to sail around the world. In fact, Roger was dead set against
such nonsense. In his view, Magellan had already chalked up a first in
that department, and everyone who came after was merely an
imitator. No, the Strouts had read a lot about the wonderful scenery
of coastal New Zealand and wanted to visit there, but the only practi-
cal way to do so was in one's own boat.(6)
 The work went well, and although he had never built a boat
before, Professor Strout was handy with tools, a careful and meticu-
lous worker, and was a trained engineer. Edith helped where possible,
including the job of puttying 10,000 nail holes. The result was a
sound and solid copy of the Spray (perhaps even sounder and more
solid than the original), with enormous carrying capacity for a 37-foot
craft, spacious deck, and good seakeeping qualities.
 They named her Igdrasil, after the Tree of Life in Norse mythol-
ogy, which has roots running down into Hell while the branches
reach up to Heaven. The end of the world comes, the myth has it,
when the tree Igdrasil dies or falls.
 In June 1934, the Strouts departed from Jacksonville, Florida, for
the West Indies, learning how to sail and handle the ship on this leg
of their journey with the first destination to be Jamaica.
 This was the season of hot, humid weather and squalls, but they
soon adapted to the routine, keeping watch on watch, marveling at
the sea life the sargasso weed, the chattering terns, the jellyfish, the
blowing porpoises close aboard, the shining ribbons of phosphores-
cence at night, the screaming long-tailed boatswain birds hovering
over the sloop, the gorgeous blood-red sunrises and sunsets.
 It was hot in Jamaica, being July, so they did not stay long. The
passage to the Canal Zone was made without incident. They had
heard much about the terrifying canal passage, but in their case, in
contrast to the experiences of other voyagers, the water came into the
locks so gently that they hardly noticed it.
 It was the rainy season here, so they pressed on to the Galapagos

    ~ 112 ~ 

Islands, across the Gulf of Panama and its squalls, finally emerging
from the rain and mist to see the Enchanted Islands basking in the
sun. They called at Marchena, found some tracks of high-heeled
women's shoes, but no humans here. They visited Santa Cruz and
the Seymour Islands, Barrington, and Santa Maria where Post Office
Bay was located They spent Christmas on Santa Cruz with the
settlers at Academy Bay and climbed to the top of Indefatigable.
They visited Elizabeth Bay in Penguin Cove and found no evidence
of anyone having been there.(7) They visited with Mrs. Witmer on
Santa Maria.(8)
  Unable to get drinking water and having only 30 gallons left, the
Strouts set sail for the Marquesas, 3,300 miles away. As usual, this
was a glorious sail, during which both of them were able to get a full
night's sleep for 25 out of 30 days. There were some tense moments,
however, when whales were encountered. Two finbacks accompanied
them for hours, playing around and under the boat, blowing their
nauseous breath on them. Once, when the Igdrasil touched one of
them, the brute nudged back, shoving the boat several yards side-
ways. Another time, a small whale struck the rudder so hard that it
jerked the steering wheel out of Edith's hands.(9)
  They enjoyed a stay in the Marquesas, visiting the remains Melville
had written about in Typee. At Nuku Hiva they called on Haka Hau,
the last of the Taipis and collected some tiki souvenirs. Stopping at
Hikeu Bay, they found an American living there, an ex-navy enlisted
man, who welcomed them and pumped them for news of home.
  The next call was Manihi in the Tuamotus, and then Tahiti, where
they stopped only long enough to collect their mail. Next came
Moorea and the Leeward Islands, including Ra'iatea, then Bora Bora
and Samoa.(l0) The Fijis delighted them and considerable time was
spent there. Then they headed for New Zealand, their original desti-
nation. The season was now advanced, so they sailed directly from
the Bay of Islands around North Cape to the Sounds. On the way,
they passed the cadet cruise ship Joseph Conrad under full sail,
skippered by Alan J. Villiers. Finally, they got their first glimpse of
the Southern Alps, sighting Mount Aspiring and Pembroke Peak.
  For nearly two years, the New Zealand Sounds had been a goal.
Now they cruised and explored extensively but leisurely at will. As
winter came on, they hurried north, stopping briefiy at Dunedin,
Lyttleton, and Wellington on their way up from Bluff. Now, it was
time to leave for home. Which way to go? Back across the Pacific, or

  ~ 113 ~

around the Cape of Good Hope and up the Atlantic? They figured
the latter route would be easier, more pleasant, and interesting, and
thus they decided on a circumnavigation.
  After a boisterous crossing of the Tasman Sea, they called at
Brisbane, then headed north for warmer weather inside the Great
Barrier Reef along the Queensland coast. At Thursday Island, they
visited the pearling operations, and then went on to Darwin. As the
wet season approached, they sailed on to Christmas Island, where
they were hosted warmly by the British colony engaged in phosphate
  Next came the long sail down the trades along Slocum's track to
the Keeling-Cocos Islands, where they enjoyed a visit with the Cable
Company team on Direction and the Clunies-Ross colony on Home
Island, where the natives still remembered the visit of Captain Harry
Pidgeon. Governor John S. Clunies-Ross himself welcomed them.'l
  The Igdrasil left Keeling-Cocos for a fine sail of 16 days and 2,300
miles to Rodriguez. There they visited the caves, as all the previous
voyagers had done, and enjoyed the hospitality. The next call was
Mauritius, as usual, and more visiting and sightseeing.
  The worst weather of the entire trip was encountered in the
Mozambique Channel between Madagascar and the African main-
land, at one time being hove-to for thirty hours in a cyclone. While
Edith passed the time by scanning the African coast for native signs,
the first recognizable object was a golf course in Darkest Africa.
Durban was entered at night before a brisk gale, and soon they were
moored and ashore.(l2)
  The passage around to Cape Town was uneventful, except for
several routine gales. After taking in the sights of South Africa, they
sailed in late February 1937 for St. Helena, the usual stop for circum-
navigators homeward bound. They found St. Helena a fascinating
place with many evidences remaining of Napoleon's exile here.tS
Ascension came next, where they visited the lonely colony. The long
run to the Barbados brought them within sight of the Brazilian penal
colony island of Fernando de Noronha. Crossing their outbound
track in the West Indies, they again experienced the hot, humid, and
rainy summer weather. They called at the Bahamas and then rode
the Gulf Stream northward to New York, their final destination.
  In three years, they had sailed 38,000 miles around the world to
become the first copy of the Spray to make it.
  The following year, the Strouts became the first of a series of man-

   ~ 114 ~

wife teams of voyagers to receive the coveted Blue Water Medal of
the Cruising Club of America, given them without date.
  This was not the end of their sailing days, however. They soon
departed on another long voyage, this time through the Caribbean to
the Panama Canal, then over to the Hawaiian Islands, northward to
the Aleutian Islands and Alaska, and down the Pacific Northwest
coast to California.
  In 1939, Igdrasil was sold to D. Grant and L. Smith, who changed
her name to Tane and intended to sail her to the South Pacific. The
next owner was probably Edwin L. King of Newport Beach, Cali-
fornia. She was remodeled and refitted during 1957 and 1958, and a
new Gray engine was installed. In 1959, she was advertised in Los
Angeles newspapers for $20,000. The last-known owners were Mr.
and Mrs. Paul Lewis, Jr., of Los Angeles, who apparently restored the
original name. Among the visitors who came to see the venerable old
Spray copy were Professor and Edith Strout, who spent a night
aboard for old time's sake. They had not seen the Igdrasil since they
sold her in 1939.(14)
  Much to the delight of Spray and Slocum aficionados, the Strouts
had successfully completed a leisurely and extended circumnavigation
with no misadventures or disasters, using the original lines for their
copy, and having had no previous experience either at boat building
or voyaging.
  The Strouts had not intended to make a circumnavigation, and
there was little publicity generated. They did not write a book about
their adventures, although both Roger and Edith did articles for
various periodicals such as Yachting and National Geographic. They
found Igdrasil, as Slocum reported Spray, to be sca-kindly, docile
under heavy weather conditions, easy to handle even for amateurs
(many detractors have claimed it was Slocum's skill that kept him
out of trouble), and capable of surprising speeds, averaging at times
170 miles a day. They proved also, using sails that were duplicates of
Spray's, that the vessel was indeel self-steering on many points of
sailing. Like Slocum, they changed their rig midway during their
voyage. Slocum added a jigger mast and a small sail aft, making Spray
technically a yawl. Strout added a mizzen mast in New Zealand,
shortening the mainsail and converting Igdrasil into a ketch (not a
yawl as most published accounts have it).
  Igdrasil, like Spray, was roomy and comfortable to live aboard, and
capable of carrying an enormous load. Slocum filled his hold with

     ~ 115 ~    

tallow and other salvage while on his voyage; the Strouts used their
large tankage to buy fuel at 10 cents a gallon in the Canal Zone.
Before leaving home, they loaded aboard scraps from the construc-
tion of the boat for stovewood. When they sold the boat, more than
half of this supply was still aboard.
  Years later, in a letter, Roger wrote: "I honestly believe that
Igdrasil wras the safest and most comfortable vessel of her length that
was ever built.''(l5)
  In her, he said, they had voyaged in safety, eaten well, and slept in
  Not even old Joshua Slocum could have claimed more.

  ~ 116 ~

 - end Chapter 11 -

To Chapter 12.


AUTHOR's NOTES Chapter Eleven 1. Yachting, September 1937. Also see National Geographic Magazine, July 1939. Vol. LXXVI, No. 1. 2. See In the Wake of the Spray by Kenneth E. Slack (New Bruns- wick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1966) for the true story of Slocum's model, Mower's lines, and Howard I. Chapelle's explanation of Rudder's version. Strout's version of Spray was not an exact copy, being 37 feet overall, 14 feet 6 inches in beam, and 5 feet of draft. Also, Strout's version had an unbroken deckhouse and a different cabin arrangement. Igradasil was constructed of pitch pine and white oak, and had originally a four-cylinder Miller gasoline engine. The Spray, of course, did not have an auxiliary engine. Of the many copies of the Spray, John Hanna's version, Foam II, probably comes closest to being the best. The plans for this and other Hanna dream boats are still available at this writing from his widow, Dorothy, at 636 Wilkie Street, Dunedin, Florida 33528. The Basilisk was almost an exact copy, and was built at the same yard in Maryland as at least one other, the so-called Oxford Spray of Captain R. D. Culler. Basilisk was rigged as the original and owner Gilbert C. Klingel reported her performance, even in the bad storm he encountered, to be comfortable and seaworthy. She was wrecked through a miscalculation on Great Inagua in the Bahamas, but the sails were salvaged and purchased by Roger Strout. See Klingel's book Inugua, for the complete story. 4. Cipriano Andrade's famous analysis of the Spray's lines appeared in Rudder Magazine, June 1909. In a letter to me, Howard I. Chapelle, now curator, Division of Transportation, Smithsonian Institution, wrote: "Slocum's letters are like those of a 4th grader rather backward at that. He was 60 per cent fine seaman, 10 per cent liar, and 30 per cent showman, I would say. Had a lot of guts. He was going nowhere in no hurry so I suppose he sailed as the boat wanted to go. As I said, no lines were actually taken off Spray, so that poor Andrade was victimized by the old fraud, Tom Day, with Charley Mower the fall guy. Had Mower taken off the lines we would have had something to work on now we have no reliable plans as a basis for analysis. But the whole story of the wonderful abilities of Spray is now highly questionable." It might be added that as a young draftsman, Chapelle was an assistant of Charles Mower, and heard the story firsthand of taking the lines off the model. 5. Strout later said that he bought Basilisks sails not only because they were a bargain, but because he wanted to test out some of Slocum's state- ments about how the Spray handled under various conditions. 6. This reason or "excuse" is vaguely familiar. One is reminded that Conor O'Brien said he had not intended on sailing around the world; he just wanted to go mountain climbing in the New Zealand Alps, and sailing there in his own boat seemed the most convenient way. The New Zealand Tourist Bureau assures me, however, that public transportation in the form of jet airliners and cruise ships is now available. 7. See William A. Robinson's To the Great Southern Sea for his explanation of the Penguin Village. On his second voyage with Svaap, Robinson and his wife, Florence, and cousin Dan West, built a miniature "village" of stone for the purpose of filming an "animal story" using live penguins. When Robinson was stricken with a burst appendix Svaap and the project were aban- doned. Later visitors have marveled at the "village," not knowing it was built by human hands. 8. There have been dozens of variations of the events on Santa Maria. Edith Strout said Mrs. Witmer, with her husband and two sons, settled there, or on Charles Island, in 1931. They were preceded by Dr. Friedrich Ritter and Frau Dore Koerwin, who had sought an idyllic tropical paradise. The tranquillity of the island was shattered with the later appearance of the Baroness Eloise de Wagner Wehrborn and two male consorts. After years of strife, the Baroness and one of her consorts disappeared and have never been heard of since. The other, Alfred Lorenz, died of thirst and hunger on an island to the north. Dr. Ritter died and Frau Koerwin returned to Germany. 9. The incidence of whale encounters and attacks in this area of the oceans is a hair-raising phenomenon. See Appendix for a discussion of this. 10. The well-known habit of Samoans of "harassing" visiting yachts is explained by Edith in her National Geographic account. She pointed out that for generations the Samoans had developed a tribal attitude of communal ownership, and unlike other places where natives respect other's rights and property, the Samoans thought nothing of swarming aboard a yacht without asking permission, and staying indefinitely without invitation. 11. Modern circumnavigators have found the Clunies-Ross descend- ants on Home Island somewhat less than hospitable The yacht traffic, even in this remote Indian Ocean waystation, has become so heavy, and the visitors perhaps so callused, that they are no longer welcome. Moreover, the governors of this feudal patriarchy perhaps do not want the population becoming restless with imported ideas about the outside world. 12. Durban or Port Natal is another place where voyagers have worn out their welcome. For decades, visitors found Durban to be one of the most hospitable places on earth. That this is no longer true was indicated in a letter to me from Dr. Hamish Campbell of Durban, who had given up greeting visit- ing yachts for personal reasons. 13. St. Helena was not only the site of Napoleon's exile and death. The British used it for years as a political prison. During the Boer War, several thousand prisoners captured by the British were held there. Several Zulu chieftains, including a Sultan of Zanzibar, were also among the inmates over the years. This stopping place was first described by Captain Slocum, who had an enjoy- able stay and was given a live goat by the American consul, R. A. Clark. 14. The Spray, Volume XV, 1971 publication of the Slocum Society. 15. In the Wake of the Spray, by Kenneth E. Slack (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1966), p. 211.

To Chapter 12.

Return to Table of Contents.